|Helen and Scott Nearing
In 1971, Charlie Gould, a Cooperative Extension Agent in Lewiston, called together a gathering at Thomas Point Beach in Brunswick. Attending were some of the many people who had been calling Charlie with questions about organic gardening and farming. Scott and Helen Nearing were guest speakers at the gathering, and from that meeting, over the winter, sprang MOFGA.
MOFGA started as a group that brought people together so that they could learn from one another a model that we have continued to follow since. We started with local chapters, pot-luck suppers, and garden tours. In 1972, we ran our first organic certification program, following the Rodale Organic Garden certification guidelines. Shortly thereafter came a farm apprenticeship program, "Spring Growth Conferences" (at the Hinckley School and College of the Atlantic), and MOFGA's first steps into public policy initiatives a "No-spray Register," organic food labeling, and a campaign focusing on the hazards associated with pesticide drift. By 1972, we had a regular newsletter, which, by 1974, evolved into a newspaper The Maine Organic Farmer and Gardener. In 1986, MOFGA became the first organic farming organization to hire its own "Extension Agent."
MOFGA held its first Common Ground Country Fair at the Litchfield Fairgrounds in 1977. Fair organizers conceived the Fair as a "harvest celebration." Roughly 10,000 people came from Maine and beyond. By 1981, the Fair had outgrown Litchfield, so MOFGA began renting the Windsor Fairgrounds, where the fairgoing crowd eventually grew to more than 50,000 visitors. Since the earliest days of the Fair, MOFGA had envisioned a home of its own not only for the three days of Common Ground, but also for a year-round agricultural education center. A "Vision Committee" searched tirelessly for the perfect place, taking long looks in Wayne, Livermore Falls, and elsewhere around the state. The search for a permanent home ended in 1996, in Unity, with the purchase of more than 200 acres of fields and forest. We opened our doors to the public on September 25, 1998 opening day of the Common Ground Country Fair.
MOFGA now has more than 11,000 members, a staff of 18 employees, an organic certification subsidiary that certifies 4% of Maine's farms and 15% of the state's dairies, a year-round education program offering dozens of conferences, presentations and workshops throughout Maine, a Journeyperson Program providing advanced training for people wanting to become organic farmers, and countless opportunities for more than 2000 active volunteers.
MOFGA is working with the University of Maine Folklife Center to conduct oral history interviews with people who have played key roles in the history of the organization. Over time, the recorded interviews are being transcribed. We hope that the collaborative effort, with its many fascinating accounts, will soon produce a rich historical account of this vibrant organization.
Read the complete timeline of MOFGA's history (through 2015)